Hi! What an interesting personality you are! Chef, dancer, and writer…are you a male and single by any chance? Haha, only kidding!
The Russian cuisine is certainly different from what foreigners coming into the school are used to, and although many of the foreigners are therefore not too keen on it, I actually like it very much. To answer your questions:
- Is it tasty? I think so, yes! But like I said, many of the other foreigners (especially the Japanese girls) prefer to buy and cook their own food (and it still never ceases to amaze me how much they are capable of cooking with the limited equipment we have at the dorms – a microwave, a rice cooker, and some other thing that I have not bother to check what it even is, haha!) All of the food we get is very good quality, and every day the menu as well as every piece of food is checked and signed off on by both the school’s dietitian and the director of the school. I don’t know if that’s common practice in schools (or boarding schools) in Russia or if they are just extra careful with our health because of our profession.
- Similar to another type of cultural cuisine? I can’t give an entirely comprehensive answer because I’m not familiar with all cultural cuisines, of course! But many of the stuff we are given is similar to foods I am used to from home; this makes sense because Israeli cuisine is heavily influenced by Russian cuisine (as well as other cuisines – Mediterranean and Arab cuisines, I think), and maybe this is why I like it more than the other foreigners. All the food is “home” type of food – not junk like the pizza, chicken fingers, and whatever else it is they serve in most US schools. Some of the food is very similar to Polish foods that I know from what my grandmother used to make (or some of it is even the same food but by a different name), and while I don’t know much about other Eastern European cuisines, I would think they would all be very similar. Here in Perm, there seems to also be some Asian influence (we are situated right on the border between European Russia and Asian Russia).
- Any repetitive ingredients? Yes! Grains are a big staple and they are served very often as kasha (porridge) at breakfast or as one of the items with lunch or dinner. They rotate between buckwheat (which has become a favorite of mine, although I didn’t like it at all before coming here!), rice, barley, oats, so on and so forth. If a grain is not being served then there are potatoes – usually mashed. Sometimes we get macaroni which they cook plain in butter. They seem to add butter to everything! There is bread at every meal. Breakfast consists of a hot drink (tea with milk, some type of coffee drink with milk, chocolate milk, or hot chocolate), ‘buterbrod’ which is a piece of bread with butter and either cheese or meat, and some type of main course which is either kasha, zapekanka with sweetened condensed milk (zapekanka is like a baked ‘casserole’ or ‘cheesecake’ type dish made out of tvorog), or omelet. Sometimes they give us a candy with breakfast as well – ‘syrok’ (a bar of tvorog with flavor and coated in chocolate) or ‘super kontik’ (some chocolate and hazelnut cookie sandwich w/ chocolate) or something else of the sort. Lunch and dinner…there is usually a salad which can be something like grated carrots and crushed walnuts, or cabbage, carrots, and corn, or beetroot, or something I believe is called “Peasant” salad which has all kind of stuff (beetroot, potatoes, pickles…and more stuff that I can’t remember!) There is always soup, sometimes there is braised cabbage. A grain/potato/macaroni as I mentioned before. And some main dish of meat – can be fish (which they cook with cheese on top), ‘kotlety’ (meat patties), stuffed cabbage/peppers, “Ezhiki” meatballs which are like kotlety but with rice mixed in to them, chicken, gulash, so on and so forth. With dinner we also always get a piece of fruit (usually apple, pear, or banana). In between lunch and dinner there is a meal called Poldnik, which is a snack meal, and usually it is some type of baked good or pastry (this is a pretty big staple here) and a box of juice or boiled milk. We get second dinner which varies between a chocolate milk drink, Aktual (a juice and whey drink), kefir tema, yogurt, or drinking yogurt. So, as you can see, there are definitely staple foods. A lot of the foods they eat, like potatoes and beetroot, are foods that can stand the winter temperatures and climate.
- Pros and cons? Pros: it’s real, good quality food that they make then and there; it’s calculated and checked by the dietitian so I know I am getting proper nutrition and it makes it easy to eat the right amount for me despite that the food is rather rich in fat; it’s tasty, to me; it’s really neat to try new foods!
Cons: I don’t think there are many, if at all! One of the things I wonder about is whether the winter weather will bring with it a lower availability of fresh fruits and vegetables – I know it does, but I wonder how it influences the school (from what I understood, they are somehow able to get access to foods that people can’t just find in the store in the middle of winter); the food is rather calorie-dense (an average day’s menu adds up to roughly 4,000 calories), but I don’t see this as a disadvantage because it’s also nutrient-dense, and I actually like it because I am able to eat more variety as long as I watch my portions; and I suppose that the foreigners who don’t like the food would say that a definite downside is that is doesn’t taste good, but I don’t have that problem and so I certainly can’t say anything negative about that!